When a dude who has deftly edited everyone from Walter Kirn to Alan Richman to James Ellroy over the course of a fourteen-year stint at your favorite men’s general-interest magazine turns around and writes his own book, you read it. You read it because the author, GQ’s deputy editor Michael Hainey, is a supremely talented writer, editor, and interviewer (just see this month’s cover story. You read it because no less than John Jeremiah Sullivan described it as “a book whose heartbreak and humor, in the true Irish tradition, can’t be untangled.” And you read it because the book’s subject is one that any man can relate to: the story of a son trying to learn more about his father, to understand him as a man.
What you find in the pages of After Visiting Friends is more or less what you’d expect: some genius-level literary fusing of forms and functions. Words set into type as if chiseled from stone letter by letter. A decade’s worth of writing and reporting that takes the reader though a pastiche of narrative non-fiction, dreamy invented scenes, hard documents, and every writerly tool in-between. When you’re done reading this book you will want to be a better man, a better father, and a better writer.
The becoming a better man part is up to you.
Michael Hainey had just turned six when his uncle knocked on his family’s back door one morning with the tragic news: Bob Hainey, Michael’s father, was found alone near his car on Chicago’s North Side, dead, of an apparent heart attack. Thirty-five years old, a young assistant copy desk chief at the Chicago Sun-Times, Bob was a bright and shining star in the competitive, hard-living world of newspapers, one that involved booze-soaked nights that bled into dawn. And then suddenly he was gone, leaving behind a young widow, two sons, a fractured family—and questions surrounding the mysterious nature of his death that would obsess Michael throughout adolescence and long into adulthood. Finally, roughly his father’s age when he died, and a seasoned reporter himself, Michael set out to learn what happened that night. Died “after visiting friends,” the obituaries said. But the details beyond that were inconsistent. What friends? Where? At the heart of his quest is Michael’s all-too-silent, opaque mother, a woman of great courage and tenacity—and a steely determination not to look back. Prodding and cajoling his relatives, and working through a network of his father’s buddies who abide by an honor code of silence and secrecy, Michael sees beyond the long-held myths and ultimately reconciles the father he’d imagined with the one he comes to know—and in the journey discovers new truths about his mother.
A stirring portrait of a family and its legacy of secrets, After Visiting Friends is the story of a son who goes in search of the truth and finds not only his father, but a rare window into a world of men and newspapers and fierce loyalties that no longer exists.
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